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Making a Menu

How Executive Chef Steve Hardison keeps it fresh for Pirates Cove

Over three years, executive Chef Steve Hardison has slowly made small changes to the menu at The Inn at Pirates Cove in Galesville. Now almost the entire menu is revamped with seasonal changes.

Change is good. Renovating menus keeps a restaurant fresh and innovative. The old adage, don’t mess with a good thing, isn’t always true.
    Modifying the words may be simple, but setting those changes in motion can be daunting. Executive Chef Steve Hardison of Pirates Cove, in Galesville, knows this all too well.
    A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Hardison has more than 30 years in the restaurant industry, cooking in hotels and country clubs. He brings the savory of the sea to his menus. Having worked as a Navy cook, he knows the way to the crew was through their stomachs. His intriguing past — and his curiosity for new learning — helps him keep things interesting. Chef Hardison keeps Pirates Cove’s menus fresh for each season.
    Altering a menu invokes changes for the restaurant as a whole, from the back of the house to the front. A restaurant is a well-oiled machine — it only works if every cog whirrs in unison.
    “For spring and summer, I like to keep it fresh,” Hardison says.
    Hardison’s recipe for gazpacho, a classic summer dish, is inherited. His maternal grandfather, born in Spain, passed down his formula to Hardison, who added it to the mix at Pirates Cove.
    The new Ahi and Soba Noodle Salad is a fresh favorite. A refreshing cold noodle salad paired with handmade soy vinaigrette, is beautifully plated — almost too good to eat.
    Once the salad makes the grade, Hardison explains his creative process to his chefs. Carrots, cabbage and cucumber, he tells them, add crunch; seaweed and red pepper give an interesting kick. They’ll lightly grill fresh Ahi tuna, finishing with cold noodles underneath.
    General Manager Kristy Phipps and other supervisors learn the process as well so they can teach the servers and bartenders what goes into the salad. They discuss its flavors, touching on the dish’s umami taste and Asian inspiration.
    When Hardison started at the Galesville restaurant more than three years ago, he slowly made small changes. Over time, the updates became more frequent. Now almost the entire menu is revamped with specialty changes suiting each the time of year.
    Even small changes, including the freshness and locality of ingredients, help set the menu apart.
    All dressings are Chef Steve’s own creation, including flavors like his Lemon or Orange Thyme Vinaigrette and the Green Goddess dressing.
    Hardison’s homemade Asian grill sauce compliments his new octopus entrée. To fend off chewiness, he first cooks the octopus sous vide to make it tender — then finishes it on the grill.
    Some things, however, are sure to stay. “I can make all kinds of revisions, but there are certain things, like our Cream of Crab Soup, that will never change,” Hardison says. This crowd favorite is so popular at Pirates Cove that gallons upon gallons are sold each year, no matter what season. The famed recipe has not changed for over 50 years.
    Changing several dishes is quite an undertaking. Hardison has a process that seems to smooth out the kinks. “Any dish that we are thinking of adding to the menu, we serve as a special first,” Chef Hardison says. By sharing new appetizers and entrées as specials, he can gather feedback from guests and take notes for future improvement.
    His method also guarantees that the chefs in the Pirates Cove kitchen can practice making the new dish as a special a few times before it’s added to the menu.
    Servers and bartenders then become familiar with the dish, so by the time it’s added, there are no surprises.
    “The restaurant business is tough enough as it is,” Hardison says. “We wanted to make sure that the implementation process goes as smooth as possible.”
    Chef Hardison’s summer menu is now being served at Pirates Cove, so try it for yourself … before it changes.